HOUSTON (WNCN) – Meteorologists use a variety of tools when it comes to forecasting hurricanes but two of the most important may be the NOAA G4 and Air Force C-130 aircraft, which fly into and around each developing storm.
“They fly into everything from a system trying to become the next tropical depression up to Category 5 hurricanes,” said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center. “They’re the bread and butter for us to get a really good idea of how strong and large the system is at the beginning of the forecast process.”
Their missions are dangerous, but their job is essential to forecasting hurricanes.
Each plane serves a specific purpose. The Air Force C-130 flies into the storm, while the NOAA G4 flies above and around it. They gather data by dropping special instruments called dropwindsondes that collect data like pressure, temperature, wind speed and humidity.noaa
Each aircraft releases several dozen during the course of an average mission, which help to improve the accuracy of a hurricane forecast.
“If we don’t have the aircraft, we have to estimate how strong the winds are from satellite. But we have the aircraft that can fly right into the storm and tell us how strong the storm is, exactly where the storm is located and also how big the storm is. It really helps us in our forecasting. If we can get that information right, we can make a better forecast,” said Dan Brown, a senior hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center.
The missions these aircraft fly are long, and every new storm poses a unique challenge for the crews on board.
“Category 3 or better, you’ve got to be prepared at any given moment that we’re going to experience turbulence inside the eyewalls of the storm. It gets really rough at that time,” said Ed Sherzer, load master on the C-130 aircraft.
Regardless of the potential dangers, these brave men and women continue to risk their lives to collect life-saving weather data.
When asked why they do it, Jason Mansaur, a pilot on the NOAA G4 aircraft said, “I have great satisfaction in going out there in harm’s way knowing I’m helping saving people by improving the forecast because every time we fly we’re answering two questions – No. 1, where’s the hurricane going to go and No. 2, how bad is it going to be?”